|Governor taps predecessor's idea
Community service may be required for public college-goers
- Nanette Asimov, Patrick Hoge, Chronicle Staff Writers
Saturday, July 31, 2004
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's sweeping overhaul of state government includes
a few familiar ideas from an earlier era -- including mandatory community
service for public college students.
"A service ethic should be taught and reinforced as a lasting value in
California," said the governor -- Gray Davis, that is -- five years ago
when he asked the state's public colleges and universities to require
Neither the University of California nor California State University nor
the community colleges complied.
Now, as part of Schwarzenegger's plan to shake up government, expand his
own authority and save $32 billion over five years, his California
Performance Review team is making the same recommendation, according to a
chapter of the report obtained by The Chronicle. The full report is to be
Bolstered by quotations from Gandhi, as well as the governor's wife, Maria
Shriver, the report argues that "volunteers can augment what an
organization's employees do. ... They are not meant to supplant."
Besides the college requirement, the report says state employees should be
able to take leaves of absence to volunteer, but does not say if they would
be paid while away.
Nor does it say how much money might be saved by using unpaid workers.
The report's emphasis on volunteerism is in contrast to what the state did
this year by slashing support for CSU's campus volunteerism. Funding was
cut from $2.2 million to $1.1 million, said Season Eckardt, CSU's
community- service learning coordinator.
CSU and UC had agreed earlier this year to expand voluntary community
service programs as part of a pact with the governor that sets fee
increases and funding levels over the next several years.
Only one campus, CSU at Monterey Bay, requires community service.
Some lawmakers, who appreciate Gandhi's maxim that "the best way to find
yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others," are pleased to see
the idea of mandatory service resurrected.
"I agree wholeheartedly," said Jackie Goldberg, a Los Angeles Democrat who
chairs the Assembly education committee and who, as a Los Angeles school
board member, tried to make community service a high school graduation
requirement there. It didn't happen.
Goldberg favors the new proposal because "it connects young people to
service in their community -- people are very disconnected sometimes -- and
these things really change people's lives."
The Legislature can't tell the UC Board of Regents to require community
service, but it could require it of the state university and community
college systems. "It would be possible," Goldberg said, "just not cheap."
California law requires the state to pay for anything it mandates.
Ironically, it was Thomas Sowell, a fellow at Stanford University's
conservative Hoover Institution, who suggested that mandatory volunteerism
was liberalism at its worst when Davis proposed it five years ago.
"Forced to volunteer," he wrote, "is the Orwellian notion to which
contemporary liberalism has sunk."
Instead, CSU, UC and the community colleges used Davis' proposal to bolster
voluntary programs that are now thriving, said representatives of all three.
CSU rejected mandatory service because of concerns that the program would
be too expensive to administer and that "it could be excessively burdensome
for community organizations to have all of our students out there," said
Eckardt of CSU. The system enrolls 400,000 students per year.
Since 1998, however, voluntary student community service has risen by 50,
000 to 185,000 pupils across all 23 CSU campuses, Eckardt said. In 2002, 45
percent were involved in an education-related program. Others volunteer as
part of their course work, such as developing public art projects or
working on efficient office configurations for an engineering course. And
others do so through the AmeriCorps national service program, Eckardt said.
At UC, the faculty had similar concerns about the money and time it would
take to "drop (all) 200,000 students into community service projects,"
university spokeswoman Abby Lunardini said. Still, about a third of the
200, 000 students from UC's nine campuses volunteer doing book drives,
working in homeless shelters, tutoring, and much more.
Dang Dao, 22, a psychology student at UC Berkeley, said he has volunteered
four to eight hours a week for two years at the Berkeley Free Clinic,
despite taking up to 17 units per semester.
"It hasn't put a dent in my studies,'' he said, adding that he would
support a community service requirement.
So would his friend, Jason Arita, 22. They were kicking a soccer ball
around on the grass Friday. A cognitive science major, Arita said he liked
the idea of community service but worried some students would not have
"It really depends on the major,'' he said, noting that computer science
classes often require 12-hour days in the laboratory.
Robert Harlan, a professor emeritus of UC Berkeley's School of Information
Management and Systems, said he was skeptical of the new proposal and
wanted more information.
"It sounds like political showmanship,'' he said. "Would this be work done
by unions? Would they take away jobs from people who need jobs?''
Over at Cal State Hayward, sociology Professor Terry Jones called the
proposal "an excellent idea." Students are often supported by state
taxpayers, he said, so "if they could give a little back, that would be
Jones had just returned from a visit to South Africa where he visited a
university that required students to help educate the public about AIDS
prevention and said he would like to see similar programs in the United
But at Vista Community College in Berkeley, students expressed concern.
"It shouldn't be forced on you,'' said Roberta Moore, 44, a business major
in Vista's continuing education program for adults.
Carmen Navarro, 24, a parent who also attends Vista, agreed.
"A lot of students have jobs or children and don't have any time," she
said. "I would probably just stop going to school."
E-mail the writers at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
©2004 San Francisco Chronicle